Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun became the first Major League Baseball player to successfully appeal a steroid suspension. Braun escaped a 50-game steroid suspension due to a technicality. But does this prove he didn’t use anabolic steroids? Does it really matter?
Braun’s urine sample reportedly revealed an elevated testosterone:epitestosterone (T:E) ratio that exceeded 20:1. The T:E ratio is only a putative indicator of exogenous testosterone use. But the result was confirmed by the more sophisticated carbon isotope ratio (CIR) test . The CIR indicated the presence of exogenous (synthetic) testosterone in the sample.
Braun’s attorneys argued that MLB’s urine collector violated the appropriate chain of custody when he stored the sample in his refrigerator over the weekend after failing to ship it to the laboratory via FedEx on the same day. They argued that this invalidated the positive steroid result.
A three-member arbitration panel agreed and ruled 2-1 to uphold Braun’s appeal on the technicality.
Travis Tygart, the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), has suggested that Braun may have been found guilty if he were subject to the World Anti-Doping Agency Code. The very same procedure used to handle Braun’s sample is commonplace among WADA doping-control officers according to Tygart.
“You’re not going to grow synthetic testosterone just because it sat in a refrigerator over the weekend. It’s the best practice that when you can’t get it to the lab because it’s a weekend to keep it in the possession of the person who’s trained to handle it, the doping control officer.”
“This stuff happens around the world all the time. They’re collected at people’s homes after the UPS or FedEx or DHL is closed. The DCO (doping-control officer) keeps it with them. These are well-trained people whose job it is to maintain it.”
The WADA “Guidelines for Urine Sample Collection” give the the drug testing officer more leeway in the shipment of the specimen:
- “Samples shall be shipped to the WADA accredited laboratory as soon as practical, and wherever possible on the day of collection.”
- “Samples must not be left unattended, unless they are locked away in a refrigerator or cupboard, for example. Access shall be restricted to authorized personnel.”
- “Where possible, samples shall be stored in a cool environment. Warm conditions should be avoided.”
Fortunately for Braun, Major League Baseball does not follow the WADA rules. It has its own rules outlined in the “Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program”. The proper procedure for shipping and storing specimens is described under the section entitled “Procedures After Collection, Security and Shipment of Specimens”.
- “Absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day they are collected“
- “If the specimen is not immediately prepared for shipment, the Collector shall ensure that it is appropriately safeguarded during temporary storage.”
- “The Collector must keep the chain of custody intact.”
- “The Collector must store the samples in a cool and secure location.”
As far as Braun is concerned, Shyam Das, an independent arbitrator, determined that the specimen chain of custody was compromised according to his interpretation of MLB drug policy. The phrase “absent unusual circumstances” provides the type of ambiguity that lawyers love.
Braun played by the MLB’s rules and won in arbitration. The MLB steroid testers did not and lost. This should be the end of the story.
The rules can not be changed retroactively no matter how strongly USADA feels that all sports, including private sports leagues like the MLB and NFL, should adopt the WADA Anti-Doping Code.
WADA STANDARDS AND HARMONIZATION – GUIDELINE FOR URINE SAMPLE COLLECTION. Retrieved from http://www.wada-ama.org/rtecontent/document/urine_testing_guideline.pdf
Major League Baseball’s JOINT DRUG PREVENTION AND TREATMENT PROGRAM. Retrieved from http://mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf
Belton, K & Schmidt, M. (February 23, 2012). Braun Wins Appeal on Positive Drug Test and Avoids Suspension. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/24/sports/baseball/braun-wins-appeal-on-positive-drug-test-and-will-avoid-suspension.html
Passan, J. (February 24, 2012). Braun ruling deals blow to Selig’s testing program. Retrieved from http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-passan_ryan_braun_appeal_drug_program_selig_022312